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Cash transfer programme ‘trampoline out of poverty’ for African women

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Published: 25 January 2022

Direct cash transfers organisation 100Weeks offers women living in extreme poverty temporary cash support and financial training to promote sustainable livelihoods

NGO 100Weeks uses direct cash transfers to lift women out of poverty

In brief

  • 100Weeks’ programme aims to move women out of poverty by providing direct cash transfers and financial education
  • Fast-growing tech firm Media.Monks is among the companies supporting the programme
  • Data on the first group of women who were helped in the last 5 years, shows that 81% of them were able to move out of poverty
  • Currently operating as foundation, 100Weeks aspires to become a social enterprise

Direct cash transfer organisation 100Weeks is built on a simple concept. Sending as little as €8 a week for almost two years to women in Africa can lift them out of extreme poverty. But how effective is it?

“Although I strongly believe that creativity can be used as a positive driver to help change the world”, Victor Knaap, CEO of Media.Monks recently wrote on LinkedIn, “sometimes solutions need to be even simpler, by providing financial support to individuals who need it most.”

With this statement Knaap announced that his fast-growing tech firm will support the Amsterdam-based NGO 100Weeks in their mission to help African women and their families move out of poverty.

Because of “the amazing results of the 100Weeks programme”, Knaap promises a financial assistance plan that runs for 100 weeks. Media.Monks will help to upgrade the IT infrastructure of the organisation and support awareness campaigns, as well as fundraising. 

With the support of Media.Monks, 100Weeks expects to be able to increase the number of African women that it successfully helps to move out of structural poverty from the present 4,000 to 10,000 at the end of next year.

It also hopes to establish a state-of-the-art IT system that can manage large numbers of recipients. “Our goal is that by 2023 we will have shown the world we can handle larger donations”,  Jeroen de Lange, co-founder of 100Weeks, tells Impact Investor. “Then we have proven that the concept can really scale up and that we are ready for implementing bigger programs.”      

Women only

With funding from individuals, funds and foundations, as well as the Dutch National Postcode Lottery, the organisation targets women living in extreme poverty in four African countries: Uganda, Rwanda, Ghana and Ivory Coast.

The programme targets women because research shows that when taking out microcredits they tend to have a lower default rate than men. Also, family members benefit more from cash transfers when women in the household are targeted.

Under 100Weeks’ approach, the selected group of women receive the weekly cash donations on mobile phones provided by the NGO. In addition, they meet in peer groups of 20 women which provide social and emotional support, and also receive training in financial literacy, entrepreneurship and life skills on a weekly basis.

“The programme targets women because research shows that when taking out microcredits they tend to have a lower default rate than men”

100Weeks monitors the impact of the intervention with regular phone calls and face-to-face interviews, and shares the data with donors. Data on the first group of women who were helped in the last five years shows that 81% of them were able to move out of poverty.

Alternative to traditional development aid

Sending cash as an alternative for traditional development aid is a fast-growing trend. Brazil set the tone under former president Lula da Silva, with the successful ‘Bolsa Familia’ programme, which is often mentioned as one of the factors that contributed to the reduction in poverty levels in the country during Lula’s first term in government.

The programme provided cash transfers to low-income families on the condition that they met a certain set of requirements, such as ensuring that children attended school and were vaccinated. 

Other Latin American and Asian countries have followed suit, often with the support of international donors or the World Bank. The method has also become mainstream within humanitarian aid programmes, as well as in refugee camps.  

Not ‘helicopter money’

A leading NGO which focuses on cash transfer programmes is GiveDirectly, which works in the US as well as in refugee camps and African countries. It claims to have delivered over $500 million in the last decade, reaching two million people per year, figures that 100Weeks can only dream of. 

But there are more differences, De Lange says. “I appreciate what they are doing, they are trailblazers. But it’s helicopter money. That’s not enough. Poverty is more complex than just a lack of money. I am convinced that our intervention is much more effective in the long term, because we do the training, and the embeddedness of the women in saving groups.” 

These so-called ‘Village Savings & Loan Association’, stay active after the 100Weeks programme has ended, and are increasingly being linked to existing microfinance institutions. This opens up the possibility for participants to apply for loans independently. 

“I have a background at the World Bank,” De Lange says. “Of course I realise that schools are also needed, and roads. But I dare say that at the individual level our approach is key. I firmly believe that nothing beats this trinity of giving cash, saving groups and training.” 

Another specific feature of 100Weeks is that it establishes a direct connection between donors and recipients.

“We link our donors, both private and institutional, to one or more specific groups of women and keep them up to date on their development as they progress through the programme. They all have their own dashboard, showing the progress.”

Relatively new is the cooperation with companies, including tech companies like Media.Monks and Dutch online payments company Adyen, as well as food companies like Tony’s Chocolonely, Unilever and Cargill.

Long-term impact

Cash transfer programmes have shown good results and they are also more cost-effective and have significantly lower transaction costs than other development aid programmes.

However, we don’t have enough data on the long-term effects of approach. Critics fear that families will easily fall back into poverty when faced with setbacks, such as animals dying due to droughts, poor harvests, or when a family is affected by illness or divorce.

“A year after the end of our programme, around 72% of the women are still out of poverty”, says De Lange. “That’s what our research shows. Not everyone succeeds, but the large majority does.

“We would love to have the means to monitor the women for much longer after the programme has ended but that’s still hard to organise. But seeing the quite positive results one year after the end of the cash transfers, I’m quite confident that these are lasting effects.” 

In the future, 100Weeks hopes to become a social enterprise. At the moment, it is a foundation, which gives its investors a “social return”. “A measurable, data-driven social return. If an impact investor gives us €1 million, we [can] get 1,000 women out of poverty, with an average of four kids. In total, over 5,000 people. That’s our promise.”

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